What you need to know:

Effective July 1, 2015, Massachusetts will require most employers to grant at least forty hours of paid sick leave to their employees each year.  Employees may take the paid sick days to care for themselves or family members, and to attend routine appointments. 

What you need to do:

All employers should review their paid time off policies to ensure they meet the requirements of the new law.  Employers that do not currently grant paid time off to all employees will need to implement a new policy.  Employers that already provide paid time off that may be used to cover absences (such as under a vacation time or other PTO policy) may not have to offer additional time off, but will likely need to revise their existing policies to ensure that they comply with the new law’s use and accrual requirements.  Employers must also post notice of the law, once prepared by the Attorney General, in a location conspicuous to employees.  Employers should also consult with employment counsel to ensure compliance with other municipal and state earned sick leave laws, including those in California, Connecticut and New York City.

On November 4, 2014, Massachusetts voters approved Question 4: Earned Sick Time for Employees.  The new law requires most employers to grant 40 hours of paid sick time each year to all employees, beginning July 1, 2015.  A description of the key requirements and provisions of the law is provided below.

Does the law apply to our company?

The law applies to all public and private employers with eleven or more employees (including part-time and temporary employees).

How much sick time must be granted, and when?

Starting on July 1, 2015, employers must allow employees to accrue paid sick time at a rate of at least one hour for every thirty hours worked, beginning on the date of hire.  However, if they wish to do so, employers can restrict employees from using accrued sick leave during the first 90 days of employment, and from using more than 40 hours of sick time in a year.  Of course, the law does not prohibit employers from allowing employees to accrue earned sick time at a faster rate or to use earned sick time at an earlier date or in greater amounts than set forth in the law.  However, employers who do not currently allow employees to accrue paid time off starting on their first day of work are advised to revise their policies accordingly.

If our company already offers paid time off, do we have to provide additional specific sick leave?  

Significantly, employers that already provide paid time off under a vacation or other paid leave policy that meets the accrual and usage requirements of the new law are not required to provide additional sick time, so long as the existing paid time off may be used for the purposes described in the new law. 

For what purposes can the sick time be used? 

Employees may take earned sick time to care for their own illness, injury or medical condition, or for that of the employee’s child, spouse, parent or spouse’s parent.  They may also take earned sick time to attend routine medical appointments for themselves or for their children, spouse or parents.   Employees may also take earned sick time to address the physical, psychological or legal effects of domestic violence.  This provision thus covers employees in companies with fewer than 50 employees who, under the recently-enacted Domestic Violence Leave law, might not otherwise be entitled to time off to address such issues.

What happens to sick time at year-end and upon termination of employment?

Employees must be permitted to carry over up to 40 hours of earned sick leave to the next calendar year.  Employers with strict “use it or lose it” policies will therefore need to revise their policies.  However, employers may prohibit employees from using more than 40 hours in one calendar year.  Employers also are not required to pay out unused earned sick time upon termination of employment.

What else should I know?

Employers may require employees to provide certification of the need for sick time if the employee uses the time for more than 24 consecutively scheduled work hours.  Employers are prohibited, however, from requiring employees to work additional hours to make up for missed time or for interfering with or retaliating against an employee for taking earned sick time.  The Attorney General is empowered to enforce the law.

For most employers, the new law will require some modifications to their existing paid leave policies.  Moreover, Massachusetts is the third state in the last year, after Connecticut and California, to pass a paid sick leave law.  Approximately a dozen major municipalities have also recently passed similar legislation, including San Francisco and New York City.  In light of this rapidly-shifting landscape, employers are encouraged to consult with counsel regularly regarding modifications to their paid time off programs.